Many of us occasionally drop the word “like” into work conversations without even thinking about it.
“I think we sent out like 1,500 invitations.”
“I asked him for the report, and he was like, ‘It’s not going to happen today.’”
“She’s, like, pretty frustrated with her new boss.”
And while you can use it here and there without any repercussions, it’s easy to unwittingly cross over to saying “like” frequently, which detracts from your message and overall professionalism.
Take it from me: I was blissfully unaware of my own overuse until a, let’s say, straightforward colleague pointed it out to me—and I’ve since been on a mission to eradicate the word from my vocabulary.
In the same boat? Join me on my journey, and try out the strategies below.
1. Slow Down
I’m known as a mega fast-talker (really—talking too fast was my original go-to answer for “What’s your biggest weakness?”). So, I know slowing down can feel like a nuisance. However, if you’re speaking at a million miles a minute, you aren’t giving yourself the opportunity to correct for form. You hear one “like,” and you’ve already said a second before you can regroup and remind yourself to say “approximately” instead.
Along with thinking through the substance of what you’re going to say, listen for the words coming out of your mouth. Speaking at a slower pace will allow you to catch when you’re about to pause or transition, so that you can be intentional about the word that comes next.
2. Try New Filler Words
“Like” isn’t altogether useless. It can be used for anything from pausing without dead air to purposefully lightening a statement. “Like 500 attendees,” for example, feels like a softer expectation than “500 attendees.”
Thankfully, there are plenty of filler words you can use without the stigma. In place of "like," try, “for example,” “say,” “nearly,” or “about.” Eventually, you may want to correct for additional words altogether, but for now, use these words as a crutch to stop using “like.”
3. Focus on “Said”
Perhaps the most common—and the most unprofessional—usage of “like” is when recounting a conversation. Think: “I was like, ‘Want to go grab lunch?’ and he was like, ‘No, I’m way too busy.’” What does that even mean?
So, really focus on your word choice when describing dialogue. If he said something and she responded, use those verbs. If someone thought or referenced or suggested something, say that. If you only follow one rule from this article, make it this one.
4. Work on it Outside the Workplace
“Like” is pervasive—and it’s hard to turn on and off. So, even if you focus on avoiding it all day, if you “like” up a storm after hours, it’ll be hard to switch back come morning.
Instead, reinforce your good habits by forcing yourself to sidestep “like” 24/7. It’ll be dozens more times that you catch yourself and notice when you tend to say it (and practice saying “perhaps” or “maybe,” instead).
5. Forgive Yourself When it Slips In
I won’t lie: Eradicating “like” has thrown me off my game a little bit. Sometimes it feels as though I have a stutter, because I’ll start to say it, then change to another word after starting “l—.” While that half a consonant may be unnoticeable to others, it distracts me, because I spend the next beat thinking, “Shoot! Don’t say that word.”
While in many situations it’s okay to lose focus for a moment or two, sometimes it’s not. If you’re really fired up about the point you’re trying to communicate, it may be more important to focus 100% on your meaning rather than the details of your speech patterns. And I’m here to say, that’s okay. Give yourself a pass, and you can go back to unlearning your bad habit tomorrow.
Saying “like” may not be the most worst professional habit ever, but it’s certainly not the best. So, why not work on polishing up your speech a bit? Even if overuse isn’t a problem yet, by taking these steps now, you can ensure it never will be.
Photo of woman talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author